Justin Bieber Needs To Say Sorry (Again)

Justin Bieber performs poolside at Fontainebleau Miami Beach's New Years Eve Celebration at Fontainebleau Miami Beach on December 31, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida.  (Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)

In March 2016, I wrote a story for KQED Pop titled "Forgiving Justin Bieber." It was about how little time it took for the pop star to redeem himself in the eyes of the public after a rash of terrible behavior, including but not limited to: monkey abandonment, drag-racing under the influence, defacing hotel room walls, making insensitive statements about Anne Frank, egging a neighbor's house, abusing photographers and urinating into things that he shouldn't.

During that period, Bieber was subjected to a mountain of bad press and public criticism, until he took steps to make things right. He released a (very good) single titled "Sorry"; he volunteered for a Comedy Central Roast; he paid damages to the egged neighbor; and he appeared repeatedly on Ellen until he looked like a normal person again. After TMZ exposed how much money his father was leeching from him, there was enough good will and sympathy for the general public to invite Biebs back into the fold, and his career recovered in no time.

In recent months, however, it would appear that Justin Bieber has forgotten entirely how lucky he was to get a second chance from the public the first time around. He was vocally grateful back then, but over time, his behavior has once again become irrational, inconsiderate and self-serving, albeit in a new, less haphazard sort of way. The most bizarre but obvious sign of this was the embarrassing tweet he recently addressed to Tom Cruise, publicly challenging the movie star to a fight.

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Three days later, Bieber said the tweet was a joke, but then in a subsequent Instagram post for the #BottleCapChallenge, he can clearly be heard saying "This could be Tom Cruise's head," before kicking the cap off a bottle. The text accompanying the post also nominates Tom Cruise to perform the challenge next.

It's impossible to know for sure what has prompted Bieber's new obsession with Tom Cruise, but lurking in the background of everything he's done for the last two years is Hillsong Church, an organization the singer actively endorses despite its long history with homophobia.

Both Bieber and the church steadfastly refuse to publicly acknowledge the various ways in which gay congregation members are treated differently than straight ones, to the degree that Bieber has been caught on camera telling one gay fan that "any [Hillsong service] would love to have" her, despite ample anecdotal evidence from prior LGBTQ+ members that says the opposite. Though the church has other high-profile members, like Chris Pratt and Kourtney Kardashian, it is Bieber that has raised its profile more than anyone—and he has come under very little scrutiny for it.

More recently, Bieber went out of his way to derail what should and could have been a valuable discussion about songwriters owning their own music, teenage musicians signing bad contracts and female artists dealing repeatedly with industry bullies, when he hit back at Taylor Swift for making an entirely justifiable statement about the ownership of her songs.

After Swift expressed sadness and frustration that Scooter Braun (Bieber's manager) now owned most of her back catalog, despite her own attempts to gain the rights to it, Bieber hit back with a statement intended to publicly shut her down. Though he initially attempted to sound sympathetic—and apologized for a prior incident in which he cyber-bullied Swift alongside Braun and Kanye West—he ultimately accused her of using the incident to "get sympathy" and suggested that her decision to publicly talk about the loss of her life's work was unfair to the man who will now profit from it.

The Swift incident was a low point, but Bieber has not looked particularly good since 2017, when he abandoned a world tour two weeks early, disappointing tens of thousands of fans and taking his entire road crew off the payroll prematurely, in order to "rededicate his life to Christ." Now, to make matters even worse, his treatment of touring staff is coming under extra scrutiny after choreographer Emma Portner (who happens to be married to Ellen Page—one of the only celebrities to publicly call out Hillsong) stepped forward to accuse Bieber of exploitative working conditions and "degrad[ing] women."

In a now-expired Instagram story, Portner stated:

“I regret working under your name. I gave your universe my naive body, creativity, time, and effort. Twice. For content that you made millions off of. While I made zilch. Natta. Barely anything. Less than minimum wage for the hours I invested. I couldn’t afford to eat. I was sweeping studio floors to be able to practice my craft. The way you degrade women is an abomination."

Bieber is, once again, badly in need of an image reset. While not being in the public eye has been serving him well in terms of the level of scrutiny he is under, the fact that he's not distracting us with new music and tours is something that could also work against him.

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The reason we as a culture forgave Justin Bieber three years ago was that he was a remorseful young man who'd been working non-stop since the age of 13. Not only does Bieber currently seem oblivious to the negative consequences of his actions, he also no longer has the luxury of being "just a kid." As a 25-year-old married man who has been on vacation for a very protracted period (thanks to his net worth of $265 million), and who keeps needlessly placing himself in the spotlight for the worst reasons, he can no longer position himself as a babe in the woods. If there's any hope of pumping the brakes on his sliding reputation and recovering some sort of a likable image, he needs to do something quickly and before it's too late. Saying sorry (again) would be a good start.

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